First, some quick celebratory news: My very first Dragon magazine contribution is in the current issue! "Surely You Joust!" is available to D&D Insider subscribers, and it gets into how to customize a 4e character for jousting and, for DMs, how to integrate jousting into your game. (Lest the illustrious Shawn Merwin put me in the penalty box for punning again, the title was actually assigned that way. Not that I wouldn't have come around to the same pun on my own, of course!)
My very first solo-project as a game writer was Gallia, for DogSoul, back in the 3rd edition Open Game License days, so I drew on some of the same real-history research I'd done for that project about chivalric competitions. I also used jousting in a module I wrote for former LFR Regional director Andrew Schneider (who has an adventure up in this month's Dungeon), so it was great fun to be able to put all of that together in a new format.
It's also super exciting to be published in Dragon!
But on to the thought that spurred me on to blogging: namely, Maryah Morvena. If you've not read her fairy tale (she's here as Maria, and she's in Andrew Lang's Red Fairy Book in "The Death of Koschei the Deathless"). Max Gladstone mentioned this story to me awhile ago, but I hadn't gotten around to reading it until today. It's a very odd tale for a number of reasons:
1) Maryah is not at all a damsel in distress. When Prince Ivan, the hero, comes upon her, it's because she's just slaughtered a whole army. Possibly by herself.
2) The tale reads like you've come in at the middle. Prince Ivan, despite being a hero (and a weepy one at that), is the least powerful, and possibly the least important person in the tale. Before he enters in, Maryah has already captured Koschei the Deathless and held him captive. Koschei has already stolen a horse from Baba Yaga. All sorts of things that we never get the full story of have transpired before we step in -- which makes me think that Maryah is probably in a host of other tales that are less well known than this one, just like Koschei and Baba Yaga are.
3) This one is the most striking to me: there's this great synergy between Maryah and Baba Yaga herself in one important detail. They both ask Ivan if he's come of his own free will, or because someone else has compelled him to be there. This doesn't sound like your usual "are you friend or foe?" greeting -- no, something else very cool is going on here. It makes me think that Maryah has a relation to Baba Yaga that doesn't get mentioned in the story, either because they are both women of Power in some fashion, or in a more archetypal connection.
I don't have any thoughts beyond these musings at the moment, but I really wanted to point this story out. It's a great, weird little tale, and it's obvious why folks like Catherynne Valente have grabbed onto it for retelling. There's a lot of meat here, and I'd chew on it for a novel or two.